LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis enters KU’s preseason camp with many of the same questions you do.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Who can emerge at receiver to supplement seniors Kale Pick, Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears? What about the back-up quarterback spot … or the running back position … or more or less the entire defensive line?
Oh yes, the defense. On that side of the ball, Weis will begin camp with a simple question: Can he find 22 players worthy of being on the field against Big 12 offenses?
“We need to get a two-deep (defense) that we can play,” said Weis, who released his two-deep depth chart on Wednesday. “This league is a fast-break league on offense. If you just play the starters on defense, you are going to get worn out, so you better get into the two-deep.”
Today — starting with a 5 a.m. conditioning test — the Jayhawks begin the first preseason camp of the Weis regime. And day by day, the answers (hopefully) will begin to trickle in.
“It’s time to quit talking” Weis said, “and let’s go to work.”
A look at the Jayhawks as they begin fall practice:
(To take a look at Missouri and Kansas State, click here.)
Quarterback: How much difference can Dayne Crist make? In year one, Weis has hitched much of the program onto the back of Crist, his former prized prospect at Notre Dame. Crist’s Notre Dame career derailed once Weis was fired — with injuries playing a big part — but now there’s hope that a Weis/Crist reunion can kickstart a program that was left comatose after two years of former coach Turner Gill.
Running back: Who will carry the load? Junior halfback James Sims will serve a three-game suspension at the beginning of the year. Sophomore Tony Pierson has track-star speed — but can his 170-pound frame hold up? Sophomore Brandon Bourbon also has physical tools, but Weis has yet to get a feel for him. Then there’s juco transfer Taylor Cox, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 10 games last season. They’ll all be in the mix.
Receiver/tight end: Which new (or old) target emerges? Seniors Kale Pick, Daymond Patterson (who returns after missing last year with injury) and return man D.J. Beshears will see plenty of time. But the depth chart is crowded, and there should be plenty of competition. Six-foot-four junior Chris Omigie and 6-foot-3 juco transfer Josh Ford offer bigger options. Meanwhile, Weis believes that tight end Mike Ragone, a senior transfer from Notre Dame, could have a major impact.
“Mike is a hungry young man,” Weis said.
Offensive line: Who will play right tackle? Senior captain Tanner Hawkinson is cemented in at left tackle, and seniors Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli will hold down the left guard and center spots, respectively. The right side, however, is more fluid. And despite not being scheduled to arrive on campus until today, juco transfer Aslam Sterling, a 6-foot-5, 360-pound behemoth, was listed on the depth chart as battling with junior Riley Spencer for the starting spot at right tackle.
“He is what they are supposed to look like,” Weis said of Sterling. “We need more looking like him. I mean he might be a cheeseburger away from 400 (pounds) right now.”
Defensive line: Will the cavalry save the defense? Weis is still waiting for juco defensive linemen Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney to arrive on campus. (It could happen within the next seven to 10 days.) And KU can hardly wait. Tavai and McKinney, along with Nebraska senior transfer Josh Williams, could be crucial additions.
Linebacker: Will Opurum find his niche? New defensive coordinator Dave Campo will employ senior Toben Opurum in a hybrid rush end/linebacker role. Think of your favorite speed rusher coming off the edge. Can Campo unleash Opurum’s potential?
Secondary: How much will true freshman Tevin Shaw play? Shaw, a native of Piscataway, N.J., sits No. 2 on the depth chart at free safety. Weis appears confident in his skills. Of course, Shaw, like Weis, is a Jersey Guy. So there’s that.
Special teams: Can Doherty handle double duty? Standout punter Ron Doherty is also penciled in to handle first-team duties at kicker. Can his right leg hold up while mastering both disciplines?